The Beginnings of a Biography
January 7, 1994
by C.M. Donald
Mary Coyne Rowell was born on January 7, 1904, daughter of Nellie Langford Rowell and Newton Rowell.
Nellie Langford Rowell was a Victoria College graduate (1896, German, English, French, Italian, and Spanish) who went on to become active on many women's committees, notably in the top ranks of the national YWCA, and who co-founded the both the Toronto and, later, the Ontario Women's Liberal Association. Nell was the second daughter and ninth and youngest child of Permilla Rowena Rich, a qualified school teacher from Fonthill, Ontario, and Alexander Langford, a Methodist minister. Life as a mother of nine children (though not all lived to maturity) and a minister's wife (with frequent relocations to new parishes) did not prevent Permilla from committed work with the Women's Missionary Society.
Mary Jackman with her mother Nellie Langford Rowell
Mary's father, Newton Rowell, was born in 1867, second son of Joseph Rowell's second marriage. Rowell and his first wife Mary had come to Canada in 1848 with their children, settling in Arva, near London, Ontario. After Mary's death, Joseph married Nancy Green, 20 years his junior, and had five more children. Raised on a farm, with a strict Methodist upbringing, Newton was generally expected to join the church, and he did later become a lay preacher. He joined the Metropolitan Methodist Church in 1891 when he moved to Toronto, and was licensed as a local preacher in 1892. But he had educated himself further in law and became a prominent Ontario politician and lawyer. When five Alberta women mounted the challenge which, in 1929, resulted in Canadian women's attaining the status of persons under the British North America Act, Newton Rowell was the lawyer they chose to represent them.
Nell Langford was seven years younger than Newton and had first met him when she was a pupil in his Sunday school class in London. At Victoria College, she succeeded his sister Mary as vice president of the College's Missionary Society (and only woman on the society's executive committee). Nell and Mary became friends, and Nell got to know the Rowell family. In 1901, Nell and Newton were married, and their wedding trip took them to the World Methodist Convention in London UK.
On their return to Toronto, they moved in to 87 Crescent Road in Rosedale where, in 1902, their first child was born and named William Langford (known as Langford or Lankie). Meanwhile, a new three-story house was being built for them at 134 Crescent Road, on a small offshoot of a Rosedale ravine. At this stage, Newton was often absent at missionary committee meetings and on business engagements in Ontario and New York. Nell managed the succession of plumbers, painters, and so on, as well as shopping for furniture and interviewing potential cooks and maids. A few months before the move, in January 1904, Newton and Nell's second child was born and named Mary Coyne, after her aunt. In 1907, another baby was born and named Edward, but he lived only a few months. In 1916, the addition of baby Frederick Newton Alexander completed the family.
Mary Rowell grew up in the comfortable new house with its many fireplaces and casement windows and its large library filled with books on law, history, and biography. After her birth, Newton began to take on fewer Sunday preaching engagements, preferring to put his energy into the Sunday school and spend more time at home. At that time, Mt Pleasant Road was still a ravine. Although streetcar service was already established in Toronto, there were no cars in Mary's early childhood, and the Rowell establishment featured a horse, carriage, and coachman. Summers were spent at the cottage on Lake Simcoe.
When Newton was MPP for Oxford County, the family lived in Woodstock for a while (Mary remembers with delight her room in the turret of the house on Vansittart Street), and Mary accompanied Newton on trips round the area. Nell too was politically active throughout this time. In 1906 she had joined the Board of Management of Annesley Hall, the women's residence of Victoria College; this board was responsible not only for the residence but also for "all the affairs pertaining to women at Victoria College." She stayed on the board for a decade, becoming vice president (1913) and then treasurer (1914). In addition, she was a member of the YWCA national executive by 1910 and in 1913 she was elected president of the YWCA's Dominion Council.
A charming diary/travel log from July 1913 exists, marked on the flyleaf: Mary Coyne Rowell, 134 Crescent Rd., Rosedale, Toronto, Ont., Canada, North America, Western Hemisphere, New World, The World. In it, the nine-year-old Mary records a trip to Britain with her mother, father, brother Langford and cousin Newton. Mother and the two children travelled across the Atlantic, through the ice fields, to Wales where they stayed near Conway.
Father arrived at the end of July, and the family went to London where they visited friends, saw all the sights, from the zoo to the art gallery, heard part of a sermon and tried the whispering gallery at St Paul's, and made a trip to Windsor to see the Castle (though, Mary recorded, only 15 of the 683 rooms were on view). On August 10, the suffragettes in church sang "God bless our Mrs Pankhurst" and, Mary noted, "they did it twice." In Trafalgar Square they saw suffragettes being arrested, which impressed Mary so much that she made a drawing of it.
After this, they went to the Lake District, then to Scotland, near Carlyle, to see the Highland Games and visit the place where Mary's great-grandfather had been born. In this diary, Mary's writing tends to sprawl but is often brought back into line and her spelling is sometimes on the original side. Altogether, she was a bright, alert, interested, and well-mannered child. A September 7 note from Newton Rowell closes the diary: "Arrived home this morning after one of the most delightful holidays I have ever had. Good company, good weather and a country of great natural beauty ... Mary's faithful record tells something of each day's experiences. May it be a pleasure and comfort to her in after years. Father,"
During World War I, Newton traveled round the province, speaking in support of the Union government and the war effort. He also visited the Canadian troops in Europe. Nellie, then president of the Women's Liberal Association, also traveled, speaking in favour of the sale of victory bonds. In 1917 Newton was invited to join the Union government, and in 1921 he was sent as Canadian delegate to League of Nations.
At this time, the older children were at school. Langford went to St Andrew's College, Aurora, and Mary to King's Hall, Compton, Quebec where her parents had been assured the French teaching was excellent. The friendships Mary made at school were to last a lifetime. At King's Hall, Mary, Sally Starke, Alida Starr, and Kay Ross were known as the Crazy Eights. Sally Starke and Alida Starr Martin, with Helen Rutherford Bunting, were later Mary's bridesmaids. After Ruth Porter, Mary's best friend at home, married Ken Case, Mary was godmother to one of their children. The friends continued to have fun. In one memorable incident when Ruth, Ken, Mary, and her husband Harry went to the Royal York, Mary outraged Harry by trying on Ruth's lipstick.
In 1922, Mary went to Europe with Newton, Nell, Newton's sister Mary, and young Frederick. (Langford stayed in Toronto and summer camp in Temagami.) From the end of May, they spent six weeks in France, southern Germany, Belgium, and Holland. Nell went to Austria with her sister-in-law for a YWCA World Committee meeting focused on immigrants and girls and women in industry. They visited Paris, Salzburg, Munich, Strasbourg, Brussels, and Amsterdam, taking in cathedrals, museums, art galleries, and some shopping. War memories were stirred in Verdun, Rheims, Amiens and the cemeteries in Vimy, Ypres, St Julien, Sanctuary Wood. In mid-July, they reached London, where Newton attended meetings of the Council of the League of Nations discussing mandates for Palestine and Syria and attended debates in House of Commons; then to the International Missionary Council in Canterbury. The whole family then spent three weeks at a seafront hotel in Bournemouth (Newton making frequent trips to London).
1925 Newton, a supporter of the Commonwealth, had planned a three-month trip to all parts of the British Empire. Mary's mother Nell, however, was occupied with her mother, Permilla, who was ill, so Mary went instead - as a graduation gift. Newton made official visits in Winnipeg and Vancouver, then they sailed on the RMS Niagara from Vancouver. Mary reported Newton now rested and jolly. They visited Honolulu, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Nagasaki, and traveled across Japan visiting various missionary friends. Everywhere Mary and Newton visited points of interest and Newton met with government leaders, judges, lawyers, and so on.
After finishing school in Canada, Mary studied (under Harold Laski among others) at LSE, the London School of Economics, in England. She then went on a YWCA leadership training course in Selly Oak, near Birmingham. In London began her continuing interest in psychology. She saw a psychiatrist, J A Hadfield, who specialized in dream work. Later she was to be friends with Toronto psychiatrist Dr Ruth Franks, to do volunteer work at the Clarke Institute in the 1950s, and to find pleasure in the decision of her second son Eric to go into psychology.
Her commitment to the Student Christian Movement was strong. At that time the SCM was a strong leftwing movement in which many prominent and soon-to-be prominent figures were involved. Indeed, it was the formative protestant movement that drove the politics of the country. In 1926, Mary represented the SCM at three conferences in Europe. From 1928 to 1929, she was employed fulltime by the SCM as the SCM women's secretary at the University of Toronto. The office was located at Bloor and Avenue Road, though the SCM office for men was located in Hart House - Hart House at that time still did not admit women.
In 1929, the Alberta women decided to take the "persons case" to the UK Privy Council. In the early summer of that year, therefore, Newton went to England, and Mary, who was on her way to spend the summer at student conferences in Britain and on the continent, accompanied him. The trip naturally included theatre visits. Newton and Mary went to see By Candle Light, a popular play which Newton found "brilliant," "ultra modern," "suggestive beyond words," and not to his taste. They both also attended the thanksgiving service held in Westminster Abbey for the recovery of health of King George V after his recent serious illness.
Later that year, Nell and Newton toured China, where Nell visited branches of the YWCA, and Japan, where Newton was a Canadian delegate at a meeting of the IPR (Institute for Pacific Relations). It was in Japan that they heard, by cable, of the UK Privy Council decision that women in Canada were persons under the British North America Act. Their celebration treat was to make their journey from Tokyo to Nara by hired car. They returned from Kyoto just in time for Christmas and found family interest focused on Mary's upcoming marriage to Henry (Harry) Rutherford Jackman, a Toronto lawyer and financier with strong Conservative affiliations.
Mary and Harry were married on April 26, 1930 in the Metropolitan Church to which Mary had so many family connections. (In 1925, it had become the Metropolitan United Church.) In 1928, a fire had destroyed all but the foundations and carillon tower and Mary and Harry were, in fact, the first couple to be formally married in the newly rebuilt church. Harry became a church steward later that year. Nellie Rowell was social convener of the MUC Women's Association, and Mary soon joined the Junior WA and became its convener of social service. Soon after, in 1937, Mary organized a nursery school there for the children of women workers and families living on minimum incomes. There was already a Daily Vacation Bible School for 5-12 year olds, but those under five were excluded. Mary's initial summer nursery school was extremely successful and a year-round nursery school was inaugurated that September as the Metropolitan Nursery School - it is still active today, on an independent basis, as the Bond Street Nursery School.
In 1933, Newton and Nell had just returned from London and were most concerned about developments in Germany and, particularly, the plight of the Jews. Mary, Harry, and baby Hal, their first child, visited them in Muskoka where they were spending two months. Mary and Harry were to have four children: Henry Newton Rowell Jackman (Hal), born June 10, 1932; Eric, May 17, 1934; Edward, February 20, 1940; and Nancy, January 6, 1942. Newton, who had suffered a stroke and was paralyzed for five years, died in 1941. After his death, Nell spent much time organizing his papers and arranging for his biography. Nell lived to 1968, survived by only two of her four children, Mary and Frederick.
In 1939, a war service unit was instituted at the Metropolitan Church. Mary was one of the two leaders of the study, "Our Church and Its Time," the other being Miss Ruby Brown, the deaconess. But the enterprise was discontinued due to the pressure of war work. Mary went on to spend time each week with the Red Cross, among other activities packing Christmas boxes to send to soldiers who were prisoners of war.
Harry became an MP in 1940, at which time Mary put considerable effort into supporting his campaign (a phone log from that year documents some of the many calls she made). Mackenzie King had called a March election and, with the support of Roland Michener (later Governor General, also a family friend), Harry set out to win the Rosedale riding from the incumbent H G Clarke. At a stormy meeting, he won the nomination and, with the full support of the Rosedale Conservatives, went on to win the election. The Tories were very successful in Toronto but ended up with only 40 seats nationally.
Mary and Harry continued active at the Metropolitan Church and in 1946, along with Nell, both were members of the Thayer Lindsley Committee formed to administer the annual $12,000 donated by Thayer Lindsley for the upkeep of the church property and development of its programmes. In 1956, Mary was president of the Afternoon Women's Association and the Afternoon Women's Missionary Society, which had been meeting jointly and she announced in the church's annual report that the group had renamed itself the Women's Federation. (The Evening WA joined the Women's Federation in 1960.)
In 1967, Canada's centennial year, Mary opened her home for a MUC Centennial Tea. In 1975, Mary Jackman and J Bascom St John, music critic for The Globe & Mail, were the authors of a 20-page booklet commemorating the MUC's fifth anniversary, The "Fifty Years" at the Metropolitan. In November 1979, a funeral was held in the MUC, the church he had served for nearly 50 years, for Henry Rutherford Jackman. For the fiftieth anniversary of the rebuilt church, at the end of that year, Mary had arranged to present the church with new hymn boards in memory of her mother Nellie Rowell.
Mary had been raised with a strong interest in international affairs, and was active with the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) and with Women's Missionary Society for many years. Her strong Methodist upbringing led her to feel responsible for advancing the common good and for being part of a global society. But when she desired to join the Canadian Institute for International Affairs, she found she could not. Meetings were held in Hart House, which still would not admit women. Mary's undaunted response was to found a women's branch of the CIIA. Eventually the CIIA had "mixed" study groups, which Mary also attended.
Harry was defeated in the election in 1948, and in 1949, he and Mary bought McCallum's Island in Go Home Bay. A guestbook/log covers activities at the cottage there from 1949 to 1974. Mary had long had a romantic relationship with the cottage, which she had visited as a child, since she was a friend of Helen McCallum, daughter of the then owner. The area was a familiar one, full of pleasant memories. The Rowells had rented a cottage in the area; Mary's uncle Leopold, a Victoria University lecturer in Greek, had had a cottage there in the 20s and 30s, as had Alida Starr Martin's family. The Madawaska Club facility for U of T graduates interested in wildlife and botany is in the same area.
The cottage bought by Mary and Harry featured a number of murals painted by members of the Group of Seven during the first world war, and one of these murals, "The Picnic," a panel by Arthur Lismer, contains a figure which may well be a portrait of Mary. Lismer had also painted a large dragon on the outside of the boathouse, but this was not in good condition.
Along with a crew of joiners, plumbers, and so on, Charles and Louise Comfort spent much time helping put the cottage in good order, and Charles painted an oilcloth tablecloth for picnics as well as views of the cottage and sketches of the panels. These last were sent to A Y (Alec) Jackson with a request for help in identification and he was most helpful in this. Jackson also provided supporting panels which were completed in July 1953 and installed with much celebration. Later he was a regular visitor.
Will Ogilvie (with his wife Sheelah) was also a frequent visitor, making watercolours and sketches of the island. Mary admired both Will and his paintings. Nellie Langford Rowell visited in 1950, writing in the log that she was "Enriched in mind and body amid these glorious isles." In 1959, Eric's wedding day was followed by his and Deone's arrival at the cottage for a week's honeymoon. In 1963, Mary found it a good place to recoup after a heart ailment. In 1964, Hal and Maruja Duncan stopped at the cottage after their marriage, before leaving for a honeymoon in Bermuda.
The murals were later donated to the nation. The scheme for moving the murals was coordinated by Charles Comfort, then director of the National Gallery in Ottawa. In 1965, the murals were 50 years old and a feasibility study was carried out to see whether it was possible to exhibit them in the Canadian Government pavilion at the World Exhibition in Montreal in 1967. In June 1967, the National Gallery photographed the murals in situ, then removed them to be installed in the National Gallery.
In the 1950s, though Mary (then in her late 40s) still had on her hands two teenaged children, Ed and Nancy, she began volunteer work at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry and also went back to school, to study art history at the U of T, because of her love of painting. She was active for many years on the women's committee of the Art Gallery of Ontario. She participated in the restoration of the Grange (where a chest of drawers belonging to Nell is now to be seen), took children to art classes at the AGO, helped develop the art rental service and a policy for art purchases. When the Eric Jackman room on aboriginal art opened there in the 1980s, Mary was invited to give an inaugural speech.
For many years she worked with the OSA (Ontario Society of Artists) and was friends with bookbinder Douglas Duncan, a tall thin man with an ash-laden cigarette always hanging from his lips. Duncan had started the Picture Loan Society, one of the few outlets for contemporary Canadian art, and ran it from an office above Coles at Charles and Yonge.
Mary has always taken her Christmas card list seriously and maintained it with care. It provided an opportunity to mesh her Christianity, her gift for friendship, and her passion for art - often she would commission an artist, such as Ann MacIntosh Duff, Rody Kenny Courtice, or Will Ogilvie, to design a card.
Coming out of the more leftwing SCM, Mary's politics continued to develop. In one mayoral election, in the 40s or 50s, she voted for Tim Buck, leader of the Communist Party of Canada - her vote was the only one he received in the poll.
Mary's tastes in art also encompassed the radical as well as the traditional. On a trip to New York, she insisted Harry buy an Alexander Calder mobile. In Paris, in the 1950s, she bought a Pigeon painting, an abstract of a black figure and a white figure linked together - both the presentation and the racial message implicit were thought, by Harry and others, to be ahead of their time. In fact, she was both perceptive and astute. The murals from the cottage, despite Harry's initial skepticism, proved to be worth $475,000. In New York, she bought a Ben Nicholson line drawing for $200, which so outraged Harry that he rushed off to Nell, brandishing it. The picture was later worth thousands. When these works were eventually donated to the province or the nation, Harry received large tax benefits and had to eat his words.
When she was chair of the Furnishing Committee for Victoria College, equipping its new building on Charles Street, Mary stirred up a storm by hanging a Calder mobile in the foyer and buying chairs which were the latest in contemporary art. Her commitment to Victoria University from which she (Vic 25), her mother (Vic 96, then Board of Management, Women's Residences), and her aunt Mary Coyne Rowell (Vic 98, then Department of French and Don of Oaklawn Women's Residence) had all graduated, remained a steady one. Over the years she served on the Senate, the Board of Regents, and the Board of Management, as well as the Art Committee.
Travel remained one of Mary's pleasures: she made a round-the-world trip in 1954, traveled with Charles and Louise Comfort to Europe in 1956 (to "New York City, London, Holland, Venice, Florence, Rome, etc." says the travel log), and in 1965, aged 61, went to New Delhi for the Commonwealth Conference, visiting Nancy in Indonesia on the way home. Her passports for 1972-82 show that she visited China and Hong Kong in 1973, Fiji, Australia, England, and Denmark in 1974, Greece in 1974/5 and 76, and England and France in 1976 and 1978.
Mary's continuing interest in Virginia Woolf grew steadily after the first considerable impact made on her by A Room of One's Own, which was given to her by her mother as a wedding present. Kenneth MacLean, an English professor at Victoria University, suggested to her that she should collect first editions of Woolf's writings. Mary's interest expanded to include work by others of the Bloomsbury Group and the Hogarth Press.
Realizing the books should be made available to students, Mary donated them to the Women's Residence Library at Victoria University in honour of her mother and her aunt. The whole collection then moved to the E J Pratt Library so as to be accessible to students outside Victoria College and now has more than 1,500 items. From December 1993 to the end of January 1994, an exhibition, "The Work of Virginia Woolf," was held in the Pratt Library, featuring books by Virginia Woolf, the Bloomsbury Group, and the Hogarth Press. Mary wrote for the catalogue an introduction, "How the Woolf Collection Came To Be."
With her daughter Nancy Ruth, Mary supported and promoted women's and feminist causes and supported groups such as LEAF (the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund) and the Canadian Women's Foundation, for which Mary provided the initial endowment finding ($500,000 each). The women's studies library at York University, the Nellie Langford Rowell Library, was also established with funding provided through Mary from the Jackman Foundation.
Mary was a Dame Commander of the Order of St Lazarus. In the 1980s she received an honorary degree of sacred letters from Victoria University. In 1990 she was nominated for a Persons Award and received a special award with Nancy Ruth as a mother-daughter team. In June 1992, she received an honorary LLD from the University of Toronto. In 1993 she was nominated for the Order of Canada.
Up to the end of the 80s, Mary preserved an active life, visiting the Metropolitan Church, the farm, Stratford, and other cultural events, traveling to England, and seeing friends. Reading the Manchester Guardian each week, she still took a strong interest in politics and the world around her, a world she had helped to shape and which benefited from her presence.
Mary Rowell Coyne Jackman died in 1994 and is greatly missed by her
family, her friends, and those she helped, including the Nellie
Langford Rowell library, named after her mother, for which she was
a continuing benefactor.